Wednesday, January 18, 2017

A Step Down From Season One: Agent Carter Season 2 Stumbles!

The Good: A few well-delivered performance moments, Hints of character complexities
The Bad: Predictable reversals, Problematic overall plot, Lack of emotional connection to the characters, Generally uninspired performances
The Basics: Agent Carter Season 2 creates minimal ties to the rest of the Marvel Cinematic Universe while further undermining the character of Peggy Carter.

Far too often, there is a mentality from marketing types to buy into the old adage "more is better." As the Marvel Cinematic Universe struggles around its critical mass for blockbusters (eventually, there will be a Marvel Cinematic Universe film that performs more like The Wolverine, reviewed here, than Guardians Of The Galaxy!), it is hard not to argue that Marvel and Disney have saturated television as much as the audience can accept and the creative team can deliver upon. While Netflix is doing a decent job at bringing the "street level heroes" to the small screen, ABC keeps desperately trying to churn out another Marvel Television series. Even as it failed to sell a Bobbi Morse-based pilot (for a second time!), ABC produced the second season of Agent Carter. Agent Carter clearly needed some retooling after its first season (reviewed here!) and for its second season, Agent Carter moves to the West Coast.

That, alas, does not make it better.

The second season of Agent Carter starts to seed the fundamental problems with the S.S.R., which could credibly lead to HYDRA easily infiltrating the earliest incarnations of S.H.I.E.L.D., but the show does not quite get where it needs to to close the loop on that idea. Instead, Agent Carter Season 2 is a season-long struggle for Peggy Carter to keep a powerful new element out of the hands of a HYDRA-like organization.

Months after getting Dottie locked up, Peggy Carter arrives in Hollywood when a body is found in a small lake . . . after the lake has abruptly been turned entirely into ice. As the investigation into the Jane Doe in the lake leads to an increased body count, Carter discovers that there is a connection between an energy company's experiments and the death. Meeting with the scientist Dr. Jason Wilkes, Carter learns of the existence of Zero Matter, which is an element with unearthly and possibly sentient properties! When Wilkes is infected with the Zero Matter, he becomes incorporeal, which hurts Carter, who had started to develop a romantic attraction for him.

But the new director of the West Coast SSR, Daniel Sousa, and Jarvis leap into action to help Carter try to unravel the mysteries surrounding Zero Matter and the nefarious, secret organization that is hell-bent on acquiring the dangerous material. The mystery centers around a corrupt politician and his actress girlfriend . . . until Jack Thompson pops up from the East Coast SSR and starts working with Vernon Masters. Together, Carter, Sousa, and Jarvis must unravel the mystery and save the SSR from the same organization that want the Zero Matter!

Agent Carter is immediately plagued by its use of a comparatively weak protagonist. The executive producers of the Marvel Cinematic Universe continue to underestimate women; no one would expect an Iron Man movie to hinge on anything other than the heroics of Tony Stark or a Spider-Man film to work only as an ensemble piece. (While it is not Marvel . . .) Wonder Woman is a powerful enough character to carry her own movies and television series's and does not need a whole team to win the day. Peggy Carter does not have the resonance or inherent strength and the executive producers and writers seem to have no idea how to credibly put her at the forefront of her own show. As a result, Agent Carter Season 2 sinks into crummy ensemble cliches like a robbery episode and a large musical number instead of presenting Peggy Carter as well-rounded and resourceful-enough to do all she needs to on her own. Agent Carter Season 2 could have been great if it had been a female-driven, period piece version of MacGuyver.

Instead, Peggy Carter finds herself outwitted by a secret organization, whose headquarters she infiltrates exceptionally early in the season, and a scientist/actress who has nothing on Natasha Romanov!

As well, the second season of Agent Carter has credible issues in the way it fits into the larger Marvel Cinematic Universe. Viewers are asked to believe that the SSR stumbled upon Zero Matter and all of the evidence and information surrounding its creation and it took more than sixty years for someone else in the MCU to replicate that particle?! If HYDRA agents were there at the founding of S.H.I.E.L.D., with access to all the SSR data and records, wouldn't there have been a whole generation of super-villains long before Ant-Man sprung up all using or attempting to generate Zero Matter?!

The second season of Agent Carter is largely plot-based instead of focused on character decisions. Still, in the second season, the key characters in Agent Carter are:

Agent Peggy Carter - Still disrespected by the American-run agents of the SSR, she heads out to Hollywood to see Jarvis and Howard Stark and is dragooned into working a case with the West Coast SSR. There, she falls for Dr. Wilkes, befriends Jarvis's wife and works to unravel the mysteries surrounding a scientifically impossible event in Hollywood. She goes undercover to learn about the organization Dottie was trying to get access to and slowly unravels the mysteries surrounding why that organization wants Zero Matter,

Edwin Jarvis - Howard Stark's butler, he is tired of ferrying around Starks' celebrity guests and is thrilled to get back into the field with Carter. His love for his wife comes to the forefront when she is mortally wounded and he vows revenge,

Jack Thompson - Tasked with getting information from Dottie and then encouraged to take part in a cover-up by Vernon Masters, the new Director of the East Coast SSR proves to be as ambitious and corrupt as Carter and Sousa believed he could be,

Daniel Sousa - Having taken the position as Director of the West Coast SSR in order to get away from Peggy Carter and his feelings for her, he is now engaged. But when Peggy Carter comes back into his life, he finds it tough to juggle his feelings for her and his commitment to his fiance. He supports Carter's investigation, but does not spend excessive time in the field with her,

Dr. Jason Wilkes - A brilliant scientist working for an energy company, he studies the properties of Zero Matter until he is "infected" by it and becomes (essentially) a ghost. He has real chemistry with Carter, but the longer he is incorporeal, the more susceptible he becomes to the machinations of Whitney Frost,

and Whitney Frost - A world-renowned actress, she has worked deep cover for almost her entire life. Actually a brilliant scientist only playing house with a rising star politician, she encounters the Zero Matter and becomes obsessed with it. She starts to study the Zero Matter and reasons how to make more and take control of it, though she starts to hear voices from the Zero Matter!

The second season of Agent Carter is not impressively performed. Hayley Atwell seems to have peaked with her range for Peggy Carter and Enver Gjokaj is relegated to performing soap operatic emotional swings in the second season. Wynn Everett established Whitney Frost fairly brilliantly, but after the episode in which Frost's backstory is detailed, Everett is not given anything even remotely as emotionally significant to play in the season.

At the end of it, the second season of Agent Carter feels like a forced attempt to keep the series going more than an organic and compelling continuation of the character and story arcs begun in the prior season.

For more information on the series, check out the reviews of the individual episodes at:
“The Lady In The Lake”
“A View In The Dark”
“Better Angels”
"Smome & Mirrors"
"The Atomic Job"
"The Life Of The Party"
"The Edge Of Mystery"
"A Little Song And Dance"
"Hollywood Ending"

For other works from the 2015 – 2016 television season, please check out my reviews of:
Orange Is The New Black - Season 4
The Flash - Season 2
Game Of Thrones - Season 6
Grace And Frankie - Season 2
Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. - Season 3
The Walking Dead - Season 6
Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt - Season 2
Legends Of Tomorrow - Season 1
Jessica Jones - Season 1
Daredevil - Season 2
House Of Cards - Season 4
Rick And Morty - Season 2
Doctor Who - Season 9


For other movie reviews, please check out my Film Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2017 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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